MIND THE CIRCUMSTANCES

 

Even the things that seem accidental are really ordered by Him. Proverbs 16:33 (AMP)

 

Blackaby says (Experiencing God) we are to pray and then watch what happens. Stay alert to see what God will do next. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

 

When my friend Barbara, an international development consultant, emailed to say she’d be in my area and wondered if we could visit, I immediately invited her to stay through the weekend. Never mind that I’d been miserable with allergies for two weeks—this was a circumstance I couldn’t afford to overlook. I pushed aside thoughts of weariness and a pounding head. Barbara didn’t come my way that often.

 

I planned meals, weekend activities (oh, my aching head), and prayed for strength to embrace this opportunity. And then, the day before arrival, Barbara wrote to say she’d contracted a bad cold at one of her conferences. Did I want to cancel? So, was God giving me an out and an opportunity to get better? Should I give in to the temporary discomfort and miss the long-term gain?

 

Without hesitation, I told Barbara to come on. (What was I thinking? Oh, I know. I had prayed and was watching the circumstances.) Over dinner, Barbara and I discussed economic issues that plague most of the partners with whom we work in developing nations and how we can lovingly and effectively walk with them to become self-sustaining. Barbara told me about two men in a nearby city who might be the exact resources I needed and who worked in areas where we had ministries.

 

In discussing activities for the following day, I asked if Barbara wanted to rest and work quietly in her room or if she wanted to attempt the itinerary I had planned. She begged off asking if she could be still and work. Instead of racing around on Saturday, both of us used the time to recover and have the quiet time we both so desperately needed. Something I wouldn’t have done had Barbara not come.

 

Sunday was good with church and a beneficial lunch discussing further networking and brainstorming about mutual concerns. By end of the day, Barbara had arrived at her next appointment and had connected me with the two resources who appear to be exactly what I need for my international partners.

 

Coincidence? Or God tapping me to mind the circumstance?

 

Father, you are still in control. Even when things seem inconvenient or random, remind me that your ways are higher than my ways, and your plans are much more grand than mine will ever be. You are Lord. Have your way. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

CHRISTMAS IS COMING

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.  And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Matthew 25:1, 2

 

Yes, Christmas IS coming.  A number of years ago I discovered that Christmas ALWAYS comes on December 25.  Not the 20th or the 27th and always in December.  In fact, as early as 273 A.D. the 25th was noted for the celebration of Christ’s birthday in conjunction with the “birth of the unconquered sun” (Christian History, August 2008).

I wonder why it took me so long to record this recurring celebration of Christ’s birth and all the joyous events surrounding it?  Once I was mindful of this fact, I began preparing in the fall by making lists and purchasing gifts for loved ones.  I began sketching out our family Christmas pageant and the ensuing dinner menu.  I was able to choose a convenient date for my annual parties.  Essentially, with all the preparations made beforehand, I could worship and enjoy the deeper significance of Christ’s coming.

You may be mildly surprised to learn that there are still thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of our fellow countrymen and women who will be startled this December to learn that Christmas is only days away.  They will stress and fret at all the things that need to be done and the little time left in which to accomplish those tasks.  Christmas comes at such a busy time of the year.

The onslaught of Hurricane Harvey is reminding me of our lack of preparation for life’s events.  I’ve heard from family and friends that lines at grocery stores have been long and uncomfortable, and some items have been missing from the shelves.  It seems that many people haven’t thought about keeping a few non-perishable items in their pantries.  But the saddest thing is the expression of anxiety and fear among those who should otherwise recognize God’s peace and presence even in the middle of crisis.

Matthew records the parable about the virgins who were all confronted with the same event.  The Bridegroom was coming, and they needed oil.  Half were ready; half weren’t.  Half had been focused on consistent growth in Christ, of following him daily; half weren’t.  Half were allowing his Spirit to fill and transform them; half weren’t.  Half were being changed into his image; half weren’t.  When the crisis occurred (the Bridegroom’s arrival), half were prepared, half weren’t.

When the various storms come to our lives—and so many arrive unannounced—what have we been laying up in our spiritual stores?  Remember another of Jesus’ parables, the one about the two houses—one built on sand and the other on the rock (Matt. 7:24-27)?  Jesus said the story reflected someone who heard and did his word and someone who didn’t.  Crises are not one-time events, but when they arrive, we sometimes behave like students cramming for the final exam.  Trust isn’t an instant commodity that can be purchased at the corner store.  It’s an ongoing, daily exercise, a lifestyle relationship with Jesus.

Do you remember what happened with the two men in the two houses?  The one that was built on the rock STOOD.  And those same life storms come at us regularly.  We stand or fall based on what we’ve been doing beforehand.  Let’s get ready.  The storm is coming.

AND so is Christmas—December 25.  Mark your calendars.

 

Father, thank you for your mercy in all our trials.  Continue your faithful ministry in us by your Spirit so that we stand ready to glorify you in every event.  And be with all those touched by Harvey—comfort and meet every need.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

REAL LIFE

 

Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord:  whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  Romans 14:8

 

I’ve just returned from northern Kenya and a Marriage and Ministry conference that we were asked to conduct for pastors and their wives.  Having worked with this group of believers in the past, I looked forward to renewing acquaintances.

Sure enough, Moses was there.  I first met him years ago just as he was coming in from an evangelistic outreach.  I had heard about the persecution coming from animists and other religious groups.  To my astonishment, Moses and his friends were laughing and actually rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to be shot at and to suffer for Jesus, just as the early Church rejoiced in their hardships.  This trip, I asked Moses if he’d ever had the bullets removed from his leg.  With a big smile, he said they were too close to some nerves to risk removal.

And then I met Matthew, one of the praise musicians who comes from another African country.  As a security officer, he was ordered to shoot peaceful protesters and refused.  Government officers shot Matthew in the head, and he was taken to the hospital.  He lost sight in one eye but was on the way to recovery when he was warned that some men were en route to the hospital to finish him off.  Meanwhile, the military went to Matthew’s house and killed his wife.  Matthew escaped and took three of his children with him to Kenya.  Since coming to Kenya, two of Matthew’s children have been kidnapped by his country’s government, but Matthew continues to praise and trust God.

My friend Toch, director of the ministry, has been stoned and ambushed numbers of times—three times the pistol placed to his head didn’t fire.  Toch lives to talk about Jesus and to witness to his saving grace.  He and his band of merry disciples work throughout the north of Kenya bringing hope where there is despair and demonstrating Christ’s love and life through their words and deeds.

I see the Church as Christ meant it to be when I am with these Christian brothers and sisters—joyous and counting each day precious.  They understand the Kingdom of God and life in the Kingdom.  I watch members of warring tribes embrace and support one another when they share the same Father.  I follow these disciples into slum areas to share food and Bible stories with prostitutes as they walk together bringing new life.

I stand humbly listening to their stories and cannot help comparing them with my own privileged, secure, comfortable life.  And I am overwhelmed that they find something in me that they ask me to share with them.  You see, our circumstances may be different, but we are children of the same Father having different mothers.

I always return knowing that real life is Christ, and real living is in him.

 

Father, be with my Kenyan friends who count their lives as nothing for the sake of the Gospel.  Keep them safe as they go.  Keep me faithful in my circumstances knowing always that I, too, bear your name.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

TODAY

This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24

 

We’ve awakened today with a gift from God—this very day.  There will be so many choices and opportunities.  What will we do with the gift?

We will enter his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts (Psa. 100:4) reflecting on the benefits we derive by being his child.  Thank you Lord for your abiding peace no matter what may come this day.  Thank you for grace to address every situation.  Thank you for wisdom to deal with complex issues today.  Thank you for strength to handle all my responsibilities.  Thank you for guidance with all the different options in this day.  Thank you that you never leave me even when my senses don’t perceive you.

We enter his courts with praise, confidently abiding in the presence of the Lord.  …in him  we live and move and have our being.  (Acts 17:28)  Today if something should try to shake my rest in him, I will redirect my attention and climb back into his arms.  After all, Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

What a great day.

 

Father, keep us steadfast in your love today, rejoicing in you and not allowing circumstances to determine our attitudes or behavior.  We are your children; we rejoice in you.  AMEN.

SINGING IN THE DARK

 

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Acts 16:25

 

Upon a recent reading of this text, I was struck not by Paul and Silas’s singing in prison, which in itself was remarkable,  but by the little comment that “the other prisoners were listening to them.”  Of course, they were listening.  Never having occupied a prison cell for my Christian witness, I have no firsthand experience of what words and phrases would daily bounce off the walls of those cold, dark, forgotten places.  But I do have a vivid imagination.

I can imagine that angry, bitter expressions and vile curses would be commonplace as the wicked, the innocent, and the politically disfavored wasted away hoping for rescue.  And then these strange men are tossed in among them.  Men who were thrown in prison for healing a demon-possessed woman.  Of all those locked away, Paul and Silas had reason to complain.

And yet, “about midnight,” the time when all one’s aches and pains and worries and emotional angst are exacerbated, that time when the Prince of Darkness wreaks havoc in our bodies and minds, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.  Do you wonder that the prisoners were listening to them?  Paul and Silas had been beaten and severely flogged.  They were probably bleeding and were surely suffering.  Instead of cursing and complaining, they were singing because there was a joyous melody in their hearts.

There was something beyond the realm of ordinary religion.  Rather than comfort, the gods of the day made selfish, extraordinary requirements of their supplicants and were known to wreak havoc on their lives.  Paul and Silas were praying and singing to the Almighty, Omnipotent God.  What a mighty God they served, one who caused them to sing in suffering, one who brought joy to the darkest circumstance, and one who caused them to experience his presence in the hopelessness of their situation.  Of course, the prisoners were listening.

Today people around us are watching, and they’re listening.  Will we pray, will we sing in difficulty?  Will we “count it all joy” when we experience trials that threaten to overcome us.  Will we sense that there is a Fourth Man in the fire with us?  And will we sing?

 

Father, only you are able to give us those songs in the night.  It’s not a matter of putting on a happy face, but it’s rather a matter of absolute abandonment to your faithfulness.  Strengthen us to keep singing of you, and cause our lives to be lived to your glory at all times.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

CONTENTMENT

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:11 (NIV)

 

For years my brother Jack and I had promised our dad that he could stay at home as long as his health permitted.  And then the time came when the doctor told us that Dad’s mental illness was endangering him, our mom, and his caregivers.  We had to find a safe place for him.

At the last minute, our consultant told us about family residential care in private homes with trained attendants.  Although we’d never heard of this option, we discovered that such a home was available in my parents’ neighborhood.

When Jack and I visited the family home, we knew it was God’s providential response to our promise and our prayers.  The family was Christian; one of the daughters was training to be a nurse; and we fell in love with them immediately.

Jack and I returned to our parents’ home to tell Momo the doctor’s recommendation and then to ask her a difficult question:  Would she move out of the house she and Dad had built together and had lived in for over fifty years?  We gently explained Dad’s mental condition and his need for more skilled care, and then we asked if she would be willing to go with him.  We knew he wouldn’t be able to leave his wife of seventy-one years.

“I’ll go,” Momo replied, “and I’ll like it even if I don’t like it.”  Her faithful walk with the Lord since childhood had shaped in her a willingness to be led (as Peter) in places she might not have chosen for herself.

When Papa left the hospital, Jack took him to his new “home” with rooms decorated just as they had been in the house he and Momo had shared together.  And Momo was there, full of love, full of care.

In an era when we so often are expected to think first of ourselves at the expense of those we love and who love us, I remember Momo’s “liking [her circumstance] even when she didn’t like it.”  Of her willingness to follow Christ when it meant death to her personal desires.  God’s grace and her selflessness empowered her to be the companion Dad needed for his last days, and her joy in the Lord sustained her.

 

 

Father, so many of us have wonderful spiritual heritages.  As we follow the examples of those who have gone before us, help to remember that others are watching us.  Glorify yourself in us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

GOD KNOWS

The Lord giveth wisdom:  out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.  Proverbs 2:6

 

Any amalgam of figures beyond basic sums and arithmetic has always been challenging to me.  When my counselor told me that in order to receive my diploma for a post-graduate degree, the final course I needed to take was Advanced Multivariate Statistics, I almost froze in horror.  I protested long and hard—“This is supposed to be the easiest class I have to take.  It’s my last,” I complained.  He had guided me so deftly for years, and here at the end he was putting my high GPA (grade point average) in peril.

I would like to say Dr. Grey was sympathetic but instead, I think he rather enjoyed my plight.  He tried to ease my discomfort by saying that the professor was someone everybody loved and that I would have no trouble.  (But somewhere behind all the protest, I think a smile lurked.)  I left his office wondering how I would ever make it through that final course.

I arrived early the first day of class in order to visit with the professor that “everybody loved” only to discover that her class load hadn’t permitted her to teach the course.  Instead, I was confronted with a very young man wearing hiking shorts and boots and very new to the faculty—someone who, obviously, had to prove himself.  I really was between what we in Texas call “a rock and a hard place.”

After the first class, with material which seemed vaguely familiar, I took my text home and began studying.  AND PRAYING.  Every page was read and re-read and prayed over.  God had created systems and numbers and ways of interpreting data, so I went straight to the Source.  And I went straight to Matt.  (That’s what our new professor told us to call him.  Not Dr. Matt… but just Matt.)  Every time he had office hours, I was there learning from him.  And I prayed.

Advanced Multivariate Statistics is not the only challenge I’ve had, but I learned through that and other similar lessons that I don’t have to lean on my own understanding when I’m in God’s will—that HE gives knowledge and understanding, being all-knowing and the creator of all things.  We do our part (studying, in this case), and he gives us everything we need to follow him and to do his will.  We must never allow circumstances to defeat us.  He either provides the way through or gives us the resources to resolve them or the grace to live in them.

In everything, we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.  I AM NOT A MATHEMATICIAN, but I finished that class with an A.  Yea, God.

 

Father, thank you that you care about all our cares, even those that seem trivial to everyone else.  Strengthen our faith to trust you in all things and to stand still and to see your salvation.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.